02 June 2012

Paul Rudolph Designed House

Following is a reproduction of an article by architectural historian Esley Hamilton regarding the home in Warson Woods that was designed by architect Paul Rudolph. He explains the origin and history of this house which is featured in tomorrow's tour of mid-century modern homes in the Saint Louis area.

Architect Paul Rudolph in 1978 (Photograph by Philip Periman, Texas Architect, Volume 5/6, 1998).

The article appeared in the most recent NewsLetter of the Missouri Valley Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians. You can access and download the entire contents of the NewsLetter as a .pdf document on this web page under Spring B 2012.

The current exhibition at the Sheldon about the early work of Paul Rudolph in Florida is a reminder that he also designed right here in Warson Woods, the suburb north of Manchester Road and west of Rock Hill. It’s a house you would be unlikely to find on your own, and finding it in the scholarly literature would be even more surprising. It does not seem to have been discussed in any of the books about Rudolph, and even Charles R. Smith, in his bibliographical chronology published in 1987, cites only the publication that commissioned it rather than the place where it was built.

House designed by Paul Rudolph for Woman's Home Companion magazine.
You would be most likely to come across the house if you were searching for images of modernism in old is- sues of the so-called “shelter” magazines. The Woman’s Home Companion commissioned the design from Rudolph and spread the resulting house across twenty of the large 10 x 13-inch magazine pages of its September 1956 issue. They called it the House for Family Living.

Essentially, the house has a nearly square plan with a front-facing gable and a two-car garage extending toward the street on the left, not too different from what is pejoratively called a snout house these days. But the garage is integrated into the overall design and the house is given great drama by extending the roof-line out to create an enormous open gable at the front, sheltering the walk to the front door and framing a usable front garden. The trellis-like rafters cast diagonal shadows reminiscent of “film noir” movies.

Inside, the angle of the roof creates soaring birch-lined ceilings rising high enough to accommodate a balcony in the center as large as a room. The west portion of the front includes the kitchen with L-shaped counters entirely open to the family room, a feature that is commonplace today but highly unusual for the time. The kitchen backs up to the two compact bathrooms, one with a shower, creating a central service core. Three bedrooms at the back are buffered by wall-size closets. Space is available at the rear of the balcony for another bedroom and bathroom. The basement is large enough to accommodate a workshop as fully fitted up as the kitchen.

Since the article was written by the home equipment editor and home decoration editor, much space was given to the house’s detailing. The house has a built-in vacuum system. The fireplace hood is stainless steel. The balcony railings are wide open, but they “may be enclosed with metal mesh for safety if you have toddlers.”

While the house still looks strikingly modern after more than half a century, the household appliances featured in the article now show their age. For readers then, however, they had many exciting new features, so new that the authors had to explain them in detail. The sliding racks of the Hobart dishwasher, for instance, take all shapes of utensils. The burners of the Roper gas stove maintain the heat setting. The Servel refrigerator has its own freezing compartment as well as storage spaces in its door. The Bendix washer has a choice of water temperatures. The Motorola TV has a swivel base.

The house was built by Everett Schneider Company, with landscaping by Carl Baney. House & Home carried a fol- low-up article in their October 1956 issue. They reported that the house drew 5,000 visitors in its first three days, and that seven out of ten visitors liked the balcony solution. Schneider noted however, that the high ceilings required double scaffolding. “It’s tough to build,” he said.

Rudolph had included four variations on the house that was built, intending them for different climates and topographies. No. 2 was identical with our No. 1 except that it could be built of wood. Plans 3, 4 and 5 had a central clerestory, No. 3 with a hipped roof, No. 4 with a flat roof and concrete block construction, and No. 5 was a tri-level adaptable to hilly areas.

Alternate design number five (Illustration from Woman's Home Companion magazine).
Woman’s Home Companion listed three places in Indianapolis and one outside Pittsburgh where Plan No. 1 was supposed to be built, and it even named the builders. None of these houses was built, however, at least not at the reported addresses.

Apparently Everett Schneider and his wife Harriet were the first residents of the Warson Woods house, since they did not sell it until 1960. The buyers were Lorran and Ruth Foster. The house has had at least six owners since then, but the present owners have been there since 1994, longer than anybody else.

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